Lake Superior, 12” x 16”, oil on canvas, 2003

“There a place I know where the driftwood is piled as high as two men stacked”. If an old-timer would have told me a story like that in the backwoods of Lake Superior, I don’t know if I would have believed him. That is of course, until I discovered my very first tombolo.

We were camping a short distance up the White River in Pukaskwa National Park. Constant winds were keeping us at bay and it looked like they may halt further progress down the coast. It was September after all, an unlikely time to find the lake co-operative for any great stretch of time. Pukaskwa is known to be one of the wilder parts of Superior, with very little shelter, lots of western exposure and high rock to greet you if you spilled. The timing couldn’t have been better to have Rick accompany us for the week. Dave Wells, owner of Naturally Superior Adventures, had sent one of his best guides in support of our project, and although a touch reluctant to accept, being used to going it on my own, Rick’s knowledge of the area amassed from numerous excursions down the coast became a great asset. Rick and I even headed out on our own a few times. The paddle to the tombolo was one of them.

So what is a tombolo? It’s the bridging of the space between an island and the mainland from the continual deposit of debris over time. In this case, the debris was ancient logs and driftwood of every shape imaginable. Being just down from the mouth of the White River, this island was perfectly situated for the development of this feature, as the river was used in the early part of the century for driving logs. No doubt a few got away and wound up here.

Rounding the south side of the island, we entered a shallow, crystal-clear bay filled with boulders of every kind just below the surface. At the back of the cove was the wall of wood. Rick dropped me off with my gear and made his way back to camp to lend a hand. I was left in this natural jungle gym to do my own kind of workout.

Sometimes, with so much to choose from, it can be a frustrating exercise to decide on a composition to paint. But finally, the last rays of the day settled it for me by creating a creeping shadow across the wood on the ground and lighting up the ancient coast behind it. In what seemed like only a blink, it was over. Nevertheless, I found what I came for, got my painting well underway, and was satisfied. This made the paddle back by the moonlight even nicer.

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